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Lions Roar : January 2005
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2005 33 he was he answered, “As old as space.” When he slept outside during winter storms, no snow fell on him at all. PANTANO It is a fresh wound, a whole shoulder torn, with a watery ooze and a hole that’s getting bigger. I’m walking through a hanging bog, one that is cupped by the upper reaches of a mountain. Stunted tress bend sideways like dislocated hands. As I walk I see how the wound has grown, seen where backpackers have climbed further up to avoid the mud, but in so doing, tear the earth’s skin more. How fragile we are. “We” being the humans and this moun- tain. My Inuit friends in Greenland use the word sila to describe weather: the power of nature, landscape and human consciousness as one and the same. Every scar on the land- scape is also a perturbation of mind. The trees thin. Gary is so far ahead I can’t see which trail he’s taken, so I choose one and enter the wound, trying not to get my feet wet because there are snowclouds gathering and surely it will freeze by evening. My foot is a knife, tormenting the mountain’s body. I con- tinue up alone. Es muy borrascoso—it is very stormy. Am I lost? I step on a path. It leads me out of the bog onto dry ground. THE PASS The way is rock-strewn and bare, with tarns the size of foot- baths. I wipe daubs of mud from my face, grinning because I’m above the tree line, in wide open country. Here, the only inflorescence is rock, the way it turns in a stream and flicks light. Rock walls carry the signatures of moving ice: I see how glaciers have shaped this place. During ice ages, birds, fish, plants, trees and animals were pushed toward the equator. What’s left behind are new surfaces: kettle moraines, outwash plains, pingos, scoured barren grounds. Ice scrapes the earth as if it had claws. Look closely: this is all that is left of the world’s body after ice has picked the bones clean. The mountain pass we are supposed to cross looks close but is a few hours’ walk straight up. On the way, a serac falls and the waist of a glacier—a series of accumulation crevasses—crum- bles. The deep rhythm of glaciers is not something we can always hear. It is an ancient memory of sound carved in long grooves and nervous chattermarks, thundering erratics bounc- ing on the under-melody of shushing streams of ice. Glaciers represent what is bold, inscrutable, exposed, quiet and glinting in us, as well as what is delicate, dynamic and precise. Perhaps if we walk among them long enough, we can learn from them. We walk on rubble. Ice spires are wind-sharpened. We look up at glaciers while walking on the dents and scuffmarks that ice has left behind; we walk on its walking. Traversing the spine we re-enter a womb made by ice and climb into the cranium where mist pivots. The sky borrows its radiance from ice, its adamantine clarity, and we spend life- times tracking down those elements within ourselves. ICEBERGS Below is a meltwater lake strewn with small icebergs. “I’ve got to go see them,” Gary says, and glissades down a steep-sided bowl to the water. At the bottom he slides, then jumps a patch of water onto a berg. Crouching, he’s pensive, studying the half-hidden explosions of turquoise of the ice. He wipes melt- water on his face and gauges a glacier’s brightness by holding a piece of ice to his eye. He’s looking at time and imperma- nence, how each snowflake, trapped for hundreds of years and compressed as ice, can be put into service to a glacier before being released at the terminus; he sees how a glacier grows by giving away almost as much as it has received. Accumulation and ablation, to get and to give: these are the balancing acts of any human or body of ice. A waterfall peels out of a cave, rounding the granite lip over which it has traveled for thousands of years. Everything we need to know about beauty, justice, time, movement, subtlety and surrender is here. We climb and climb. Hoarse-throated streams rush past. No scent of humans or horses here, only the tang of snow. A single flower sheltered by an overhanging rock shivers. Late in the day we make camp a few hundred yards below the pass. We tie the tent to krumholtz—stunted trees that hardly move in the stiff wind. I gather twigs and make a fire. We finish our nightly meal of soup in spitting snow that quickly becomes a blizzard. Night comes as a white monstros- ity. Shadow asks body, are you there? We sleep on a barren womb that was once filled with ice. I have no children and I’m with a man who wants them. Is this beauty enough? I ask. When I go out to pee, I step on snowflakes, each one a singular geometry, what Frank Lloyd Wright called, “the grammar and spell-power of form.” Wet snow slaps at the tent. A zipped door flutters. We slide into a pulsing darkness—not a fearful place, but a room of winter where we are quiet, lost inside each other for a long time. Later I peek out: there’s been a break in the storm. Across the valley I see a scooped-out shelf where there was once a hanging glacier. Now it’s an empty bowl. Lit by moon- light, it chimes. DESCANSO “Be your own lamp, your refuge,” the Buddha said as he was dying. Same thing Trungpa Rinpoche told me the last time I saw him. But I’m lost, I’m dropping straight down into a thick forest. For a moment I see a glacier’s six-mile-wide roof, its blue-blasted crevasses and fluted channels, its white flank flashing. Then it dis- appears. I’ve entered a tangled labyrinth on a near vertical slope with a footing of greasy mud that does not hold me. Sometimes the trees are marked with orange paint but there is no trail. I bend under contorted branches and let myself down by dropping two or three feet to the next foothold. The weight of the backpack punishes my knees. It takes eight hours to go 3.5 miles.